I recently finished
, a book whose thesis holds that Americans’ collective tragic flaw is our proclivity for delusional, aspirational thinking. We are uniquely inclined, Anderson argues, to deny any reality that might upset our sense of individual and national exceptionalism. We don’t much like truthtellers, preferring instead the mythmakers who peddle the comforting solace of our national fiction. In short, we’re magical thinkers, Anderson argues, and that is our undoing.
A persistent refrain from Joe Biden, Barack Obama, and other prominent national leaders who have rightly denounced Donald Trump and right wing extremism is that ‘this is not who we are.’ It’s understandable that presidents past and future see their role as needing to be above the chaos and violence, and encouraging the nation to do the same. But these consoling assurances are not having their desired effect. It is past time to confront that the insurrection at the national capitol is at least partly who we are, and wishing it weren’t won’t make it stop.
This nation needs a strong injection of sober truth. We can have reverence for our history and our ideals (we should!), and we can hold aspirations for our future (we should!), but we must also be self-critical and truthful about our failures. These are not mutually exclusive ideas and we have celebrated examples of exactly this in our own past. America contains multitudes, it is true, but we need to uplift our best parts by actionably opposing and defeating the worst. That means we cannot indulge in the comfort of conflict avoidance. Actual patriotism demands that we understand the truth of our moment: the United States, and the Republican Party specifically, has a problem with anti-democratic right-wing extremism. And we are not powerless to confront it.
There have to be consequences.
We all want reconciliation, but there cannot be reconciliation without consequences. And it cannot only be consequences for the insurrectionists who invaded the Capitol; there have to be consequences for the public officials and figures who encouraged and incited them. We have mechanisms in our government—impeachment, expulsion, censure—for exactly this reason. Anyone who possesses the power but fails to exercise these mechanisms is complicit in the failure of our system. We cannot once again leave this as a matter for the voting public to decide who should and should not hold public office.
Donald Trump must be impeached, removed, and prosecuted for his attempts to sabotage the presidential election. If he simply leaves office because his term has expired, then that is a failure. The 25th Amendment is not the preferable option, as it would be exculpatory for the Cabinet officials who were willing Trump enablers so long as it was personally and politically profitable. For the sake of the long-term health of American government, Congress needs to bear this responsibility for Trump’s removal. This speaks to a larger problem of our time, one that goes back decades: The American executive branch is too powerful, and it is too powerful because Congress has abdicated its role of oversight and accountability. The romance of the American presidency is too much a part of our national myth, and while we need it to be, in Washington’s term, ‘energetic’ in the execution of the nation’s laws and policies, we also need to revive the Congressional restraints Madison intended for.
Arguing that we do not have time for impeachment is a fallacy. Impeachment does not require ceremony; articles can be drawn up and passed in the House, and then presented and debated in the Senate in a matter of days and probably hours. There’s no need or requirement for hearings and testimonies. The facts are self-evident.
Rhetoric is not going to save American democracy on its own. Paeans to democracy are worthless unless they are supported by action. Anything any Republican says right now is meaningless unless they explicitly name and assign responsibility to Donald Trump. The Gettysburg Address would not resonate still today without the real action and sacrifice it called and then acted upon. As Lincoln declares in that very speech, words have no meaning without action: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, and any other representative who voted to override a state election, should be expelled from the Congress. Let them decry their punishments as partisan attacks; they can make their case to the public, but the facts will remain against them.
The Capitol Police should be rigorously interrogated for their failure and perhaps complicity in allowing an invasion of the building it is their sole job to protect. The contrast between the conduct of law enforcement during the legal protests of this past summer in D.C. and elsewhere versus what happened yesterday is too stark to deny, too obvious to dispute. It is not surprising that the insurrectionists were all white and waved the flag of the Confederacy. It is also not surprising that some are actual Nazis.
And then there are the public figures who are not accountable to Congress or the voting public, but who indulged in demagoguery knowing full well the destructive possibilities. It the responsibility of public citizens and media outlets to shame social arsonists like Don Jr. and Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, and Rudy Giuliani forever, to regard them as social pariahs who should not be given public platforms when we know exactly who they are.
And speaking of our credible media outlets, they need to continue to assess and modify how they frame coverage of American politics. The understanding that the two American political factions are asymmetrical needs to be gospel. Only then can we have real and effective conversations about repairing our broken politics.
So here’s the good news: the American public has elected a government to enact real reform. We did this in spite of all the structural inequities working against the majority electorate. Joe Biden will enter office with a Congressional majority in both houses and a public mandate behind him, hopefully having learned the great lesson of the Obama administration that there is little reward for tentative, careful calculation on what will or won’t be acceptable to voters. There is a faction of Americans who will never be reachable, will never be persuaded. The time to be bold is now. The only chance we had was an election result that gave us the conditions to pursue a Third Reconstruction. We have it and the time to act is here.
The administration is faced with two immediate emergencies: one, the emergency of American democracy, and two, the ongoing pandemic. The Trump regime’s continuing negligence on vaccine distribution (another crime that must be prosecuted) likely ensures that 2021 will be another year of COVID here in the United States. Biden has promised to do what Trump refused: to use the full powers of government to get people safe so we can move on with our lives. This is exactly what the presidency and the executive branch is intended for. Indeed, this is what government is for. As to preserving democracy, the Congress needs to enact new national voting rights legislation, both to restore the provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Roberts Court stripped away, and to adapt and update voting rights for the 21st Century.
I’ve got more on my mind I’ll try to get down in the coming days, but that’s all I got for now.